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Woodlot startup aims high

June 23, 2016

By: The Chronicle Herald

The thing to consider about WoodsCamp isn’t its pedigree, its potential social impact or its business case.

They’re impressive, but the highlight of this young Mahone Bay startup is its ambition.

Founded by Will Martin and Alastair Jarvis, WoodsCamp aims to revolutionize the way timber is harvested in private woodlots. Within 10 years, it hopes to be the world’s leading manager of timber.

That title now belongs to Weyerhaeuser Co. of Washington State, which now records about US$7 billion in annual revenue.

Martin and Jarvis are planning something big.

“If we get the momentum, and we create value for landowners, loggers and mill owners, we can scale it to regions all over the world and it’s conceivable we can be the largest manager of timber in the world,” said Jarvis, whose last startup was the gaming company Orpheus Interactive.

He teamed up with Martin, who recently stepped down as president of the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association, to develop an online tool that could correct what’s wrong with the province’s woodlots. If successful, the platform should work in other jurisdictions.

The timber industry is extremely complicated. Sixty per cent of Nova Scotia’s woodland is privately owned — often by families whose older members have managed them through decades-old relationships. But the lands are passing down to younger, more urbanized generations who lack the knowledge or relationships to manage the lands. They worry that harvesting their forests will simply lead to clear-cutting, so many decide to do nothing.

The industry also features an interdependent web of woodlot owners, loggers, forestry technicians, truckers and two types of mills (pulp and saw). The goal of WoodCamp is to give all these players data to improve efficiency throughout the supply chain.

The main WoodsCamp product for landowners uses open data available from the provincial government to quickly tell owners what is growing on their property. This open data, gained by remote sensors, represent a digital catalogue of what trees grow across the province. WoodsCamp ascribes a score to each lot to assess the value of its contents. That means owners selling their timber have an idea of the value, even if they live thousands of miles from the woodlot.

If they sell timber through WoodsCamp, the company gets a cut.

The website also offers a product calls Load Tracker, which helps to track shipments to the mill.

WoodsCamp, which will pitch in Halifax this week at both the Propel Demo Day and the Atlantic Venture Forum, launched the product a month ago and the owners of about one per cent of private Nova Scotia woodlots have already used it.

Jarvis and Martin, who are in the process of raising a round of funding with a $550,000, now aim to build up a meaningful base of owners, then move on to loggers and mill owners.

This is an ethical business because it is a rural company that aims to help families retain their woodlots and manage and harvest them responsibly.

“We’re doing this because we want the industry to be successful in the long term,” said Martin. “Up to now, the option that people feel they have had is to clear-cut or do nothing. There is now another option out there and that is to increase the value of that resource over time.”

By: The Chronicle Herald

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